Feds plan test of Gulf oil-spill containment gear

Live drill to test deep water response capability

A Google map created by SkyTruth shows the extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Click on the image for more information from SkyTruth.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig ablaze April 21, 2010. IMAGE COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Hoping to avoid a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, federal officials last week charged the Marine Well Containment Company with conducting a live drill this summer to deploy a capping stack in the Gulf of Mexico.

The capping stack is similar to the equipment that was ultimately used to stem the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon’s well. In the test, the company will show how it deploy the equipment in a timely fashion from and on-shore base to the deep water seabed of the Gulf.

Under political pressure to drill for more domestic oil, and preparing to lease more offshore areas, the Obama administration hopes the demo will convince a skeptical public and highly critical watchdog groups that deep-water drilling can be done safely.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, will oversee the test. The agency already tests capping stacks on the surface as part of its overall responsibility to enforce the tougher offshore safety requirements implemented in response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

“In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, we undertook the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas oversight in U.S. history, including requiring the industry to have immediate access to equipment and technologies that could stop another blowout,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Our safety reforms are designed to reduce the chances that a capping stack would ever be needed again, but one thing Deepwater Horizon taught us is that you must always be ready to respond to the worst case scenario. This exercise is an opportunity to deploy systems, test readiness, and train under real-time conditions.”

“We have tested MWCC and capping stacks repeatedly, but putting them through their paces in the deep waters of the Gulf will give us added confidence that they will be ready to go if needed,” bureau director James Watson said.

MWCC is one of two consortia that provide contract access to well containment equipment to oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico. This equipment is required by BSEE for drilling with subsea blowout preventers in deepwater, among other situations. The other consortium, the Helix Well Containment Group, will complete a similar deployment exercise in the future.

The demonstration will involve the field deployment and testing of a capping stack as part of a larger scenario that will also test an operator’s ability to obtain and schedule the deployment of the supporting systems necessary for successful containment, including debris removal equipment and oil collection devices, such as top hats.

The capping stack will be lowered to the seabed by wire, a technique that offers the potential to be significantly faster than the deployment via pipe that occurred during the Deepwater Horizon response.

As part of the exercise, BSEE will also analyze the results from tests conducted on the sea floor.

In October 2010, Secretary Salazar required that prior to receiving approval of a deepwater drilling permit, an operator must demonstrate that it has enforceable obligations that ensure that containment resources are available promptly in the event of a deepwater blowout.


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